“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
So said 19th century French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, and how prescient he was as, despite all the turmoil, upheaval and chaos of 2020, a familiar figure was once again celebrating victory in the Lexus Melbourne Cup.
Watching on from his home in the Macedon Ranges, Lloyd Williams toasted a seventh success in Australia’s iconic race as Twilight Payment led all the way at a deserted Flemington, with his fellow Irish-bred galloper Tiger Moth and Charlie Fellowes’ gallant gelding Prince of Arran rounding out an international trifecta.
So a day that had started in bitter disappointment with another of his horses, King of Leogrance, withdrawn on vets’ advice, had ended with yet another shelf being added to the bulging trophy cabinet on display at Macedon Lodge.
The thrilling denouement bore remarkable similarities to the Melbourne Cup in 2017, when Rekindling – trained by Joseph O’Brien and part-owned by Williams – fought out the finish with Johannes Vermeer. At the time, Johannes Vermeer was trained by Joseph’s father Aidan and owned by leviathan breeding operation Coolmore, the same connections that race Tiger Moth.
There is also plenty of crossover in the respective ownership groups of Rekindling and Twilight Payment, as several of Williams’ long-time racing partners – including son Nick, Jayco Caravans owner Gerry Ryan, Rip Curl founder Brian Singer, Quiksilver impresario Alan Green, music magnate Michael Gudinski and construction industry titans Vin Sammartino and Phil Mehrten – wisely took shares in both horses, giving them 4.4 million reasons to celebrate on Tuesday night.
Indeed, the only major difference was the man in the saddle as rising star of the jockey ranks, Jye McNeil, took over from the 2017 winner Corey Brown and , according to Williams, delivered “the best Melbourne Cup ride for 60 years”.
Though now an octogenarian, Williams has never been afraid to place his trust in youth – essentially believing that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
That theory bore spectacular fruit with O’Brien Jnr, who after a brief yet highly successful stint in the saddle made the seamless transition to the training ranks. According to Williams, this most astute of trainers – still only 27 – is highly likely to surpass the feats of his famous father.
Williams also applied the same theory to another fresh-faced whippersnapper in McNeil. As far back as three months ago, he had identified the 25-year-old as the right man to partner Twilight Payment in the Melbourne Cup – despite McNeil having never ridden in the great race before.
Impressed by his coolness under pressure and his sound decision-making, Williams shunned some of the bigger-name jockeys and his instincts paid huge dividends, as McNeil delivered a front-running masterclass to prevail by half-a-length from the fast-finishing favourite, Tiger Moth.
That took Williams’ haul of Melbourne Cup victories to seven, following his previous wins with Just A Dash (1981), What A Nuisance (1985), Efficient (2007), Green Moon (2012), Almandin (2016), and of course Rekindling in 2017.
Those wins have netted him millions of dollars, but you get the sense that the prizemoney is very much a secondary consideration for a man who prioritises trophies over paycheques. If his property company was all business, racing is very much a passion.
No less a judge than the first lady of Australian racing, Gai Waterhouse, believes that Williams could even make it 10 Melbourne Cup wins – an ownership record that is likely to stand the test of time.
But however many cups he ends up with, Lloyd Williams’ place in Australian racing’s hall of fame is already assured and he will long be remembered as a titan of the sport. Even at the ripe age of 80, he is showing few signs of slowing down.